Despite my promises to be more entertaining, this post is all a bit ‘this happened, then this, and then that and then I had porridge’. It’s as much a record for myself as it is for other people to read, and I might start splitting posts into ‘diary/travelogue’ and ‘thoughts/opinions/moans/reviews’ in the future.
I always intended for my first cycling day to be short and easy. I only had 35 miles to cover and so I luxuriated in the privacy and comfort of my hotel room until the very last minute, cooking breakfast alfresco on my balcony and packing and re-packing panniers to try to establish some kind of system, but to no avail.
Eventually midday came and I turned on my Garmin GPS to point me in the right direction. For those unfamiliar with (cheapish) bike GPS units, the basic method is that you have to plan the route in advance on your computer and then send it to the device which displays it as a breadcrumb trail on a monochrome screen. There are no marked roads or junctins, just a squiggle for the route and an arrow for you. It works impeccably, 95% of the time although you have to fully trust the unit (or at least your route-planning ability) once you’ve started because you can’t change anything on the fly.
After a few miles of steady riding out of Faro though, the 5% problem arose. I joined a bumpy gravel track that the online mapping thinks is a road. It wasn’t really. In fact it is part of the Algarve ‘Ecovia’ bike route which is similar to Sustans routes in the UK; alternating between muddy/bumpy off-road ‘paths’ or normal roads with some symbols or lines painted on them. My bike rattled and creaked and flexed alarmingly on the former and I feared getting a puncture. I didn’t plan for paths like this – my frame and racks aren’t particularly stiff and my tyres aren’t the toughest.
Fortunately it only lasted a few miles and I was back on tarmac, cruising past huge golf resorts and generic restaurants ‘grilled meat and chips’ restaurants. It’s not great cycle touring terrain but it’s convenient and there are some pleasant beaches to stop for lunch at.
I’d arranged in advance to stay with Couchsurfing hosts for my first two nights. I’d never done it before and so was slightly apprehensive, but both turned out to be very comfortable.
My first host works at the Fiesa sand sculpture festival and he got me in for free to have a look around. It’s impressively large in scale and some of the pieces are great. I think some of the figures looked a bit creepy though.
For my third night I arranged to meet and old bike polo acquaintance, who moved out here a few years ago. We arranged to me in a village called Barao de sao Joao. I’d never heard of it, but it’s west of Portimao, much more rural/agricultural and sleepy. The village itself was nearly deserted when I rode through around lunchtime, so I expected a quiet evening.
It turned out that this town is something of a hippy/alternative mecca, with 7 bars and loads of people living out of camper vans or travelling through and not quite managing to leave. I saw more dreadlocked women here than I have in any other place since the 90s. The bar we went to was rammed with people of various nationalities, adults and kids getting loose and a sizeable community of weed smokers. Drugs were decriminalised in Portugal a fair few years ago now and cannabis is pretty popular. Booze is ludicrously cheap and the attitudes to drink-driving are decidedly lax. I’ll be staying off the roads at night I think!
My first night in the tent was pretty comfortable, despite Portugal’s standard background noise of dogs barking and howling.
The next day I went down to Sagres (the end of Europe) to say I’ve been there, before heading north for my first ever solo wild-camp. I looked at the map in advance and the area looked promising so around 5:30pm I turned off the road in search of somewhere safe, trying to push Deliverance-style concerns out of my mind.
I had to ride for about a kilometre up steep fireroad hills to find somewhere inconspicuous enough, but once I was up there it was beautiful peaceful and I was undisturbed for the duration of my 15 hour stay. It started to drizzle around 7pm so I sat in the tent reading and fell to sleep a few hours later. I then slept intermittently for 12 hours – I think the wind buffeting the walls of my tent inspired vivid dreams!
The next day I waited for my tent to dry and hit the road about 11am. A lunch of muffins, yogurt and fruit in Aljezur powered me up the mountains to Monchique towards my next Couchsurfing host but the dropping temperatures and sporadic rain triggered my stupid fingers to freeze and it wasn’t until I was sweating into my waterproof jacket an hour or so into the climb that feeling returned.
Evidently 18 degrees is not necessarily warm enough to prevent Reynauds being an issue. I probably need to take more care.